A breeze in Belize – Part 2
By Rupert Parker – Part 2 of a series
Caribbean Barrier Reef
What most people come to Belize for are the Cays, coral islands that run the 150 mile length of the country, rivaling Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. After a couple of sweaty days in Belize City I was ready to exchange the hustle and hassle for something slightly more laid back.
It’s a 45 minute ride by water taxi to Caye Caulker and you pass several other smaller Cays on the way. Size isn’t an issue here, and Caulker itself is only 5 miles long and half a mile wide. Manic Americans piloting electric golf carts are the only hazard here since cars are banned and there are no roads, just tracks in the sand. They do have names though, Front, Middle and Back Streets are lined with colourful clapboard houses which act as hotels and restaurants. There are no real beaches but it’s not a real problem as you can luxuriate in the blue waters of the Caribbean for hours.
Fish, Fish and More Fish
What draws people here, apart from the peace and quiet, are the diving and snorkeling. The seas around the island are a marine reserve and just swimming from the shore, with your snorkel and mask, guarantees sightings of exotic fish. A boat ride away is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a protected site since 1987 and the first of its kind in Central America. Most companies offer a day’s excursion here and also include a visit to the infamous Shark-Ray Alley, with a few glasses of the local punch thrown in to give you extra courage.
I’ve been on many so-called snorkeling trips and they’ve all been uniformingly disappointing, but not this one. Our first stop was at Hol Chan and, as I entered the clear water, I was soon overwhelmed by a traffic jam of fish. Grey Snapper, Parrotfish and Barracuda surrounded me, skimming over the fans of coral, and apparently oblivious to my presence.
The next stop was what I was waiting for. When we arrived at Shark-Ray Alley the guides threw sardines in the water, announcing lunch is served. Suddenly sharks appeared out of nowhere, disturbing the peaceful waters in a massive feeding frenzy. Time to bite the bullet and jump in among them, despite primal fears of being eaten. In fact these Nurse Sharks are meant to be totally harmless and soon I was swimming amongst them, putting theory to the test. The bigger problem was the huge Stingrays – they hover too close to comfort and pushing them away is the only option.
After a hard days fraternising with the nurses, the best option is to watch the sun go down, at one of the make-shift outdoor barbecue restaurants where the fish is cooked in front of you. A glass or five of the local rum aids the digestion and no hotel is further than staggering distance. It’s everybody’s dream of tropical paradise and, for once, it’s mainly true.
Caye Caulker is small enough to walk around and check out the hotels, bargaining for the best rooms. Here are some favourites:
Trends Beachfront Hotel (226-0094).On the beach, immediately north of the Front Dock.
Auxillou Beach Suites (226-0370). 50m along the beach from the Front Dock One of the more expensive options but spacious and comfortable.
Tina’s Backpackers (206-0019). 75m along the beach from the Front Dock and one of the cheapest places with dorm rooms and shared kitchen.
Sandy Lane Hotel 226-0117. Small, quiet, clean and inexpensive.
Iguana Reef Inn (226-0213). Luxury with a hefty price to match.
Along the sea front make-shift barbecue restaurants spring up every evening and you’re welcome to bring your own beer. If you want something more luxurious, these are a good choice:
Happy Lobster. Inexpensive restaurant ladling out rice and beans, seafood and local dishes.
Jolly Roger’s Barbecue. Some of the island’s best lobster and fish at great prices.
Taj Restaurant (621-6415). Fish, vegetarian and meat curries
Don Corleone Trattoria (226-0025). Up-market Italian.